When Howard Carter discovered King Tutankhamun's treasure-packed tomb in 1922 in the Valley of the Kings, he found a large collection of footwear of different sizes and shapes. "It is the only evidence of ancient Egyptian royal footwear. It is an amazing collection. Just think -- it is 3,300 years old," Dutch Archaeologist Andre Veldmeijer, the author of "Tutankhamun's Footwear: Studies of ancient Egyptian Footwear," told Discovery News. Veldmeijer studied 81 specimens, including simple sewn sandals, as well as other elaborately decorated, gold ornamented, brightly colored open shoes. Read an article about Veldmeijer's analysis here. Shown is a reconstruction of King Tut's tomb as it was when Howard Carter first discovered it.
At least three pairs of shoes found in King Tut's tomb have horizontal straps just below the toes. This strap is not known in any other ancient footwear, sandal or shoe. According to Veldmeijer, the strap might have been a solution to hold the sandal to King Tut's malformed feet. "If the foot was seriously deformed, he might have have dragged the shoe over the floor, whereas the rather tight foot strap kept it in place," Veldmeijer said. Largely fallen apart, this pair of shoes featured a leathered treadsole covered with a thin sheet of gold, and an upper made of one layer of leather and one layer of beads. Six strands of tiny disc beads attached to a layer of leather made the tight foot strap, while the front strap was made of a leather-filled cylinder of filigree gold. The back strap was beautifully decorated with 12 gold daises on a blue background mosaic of lapis lazuli. At the lower edge of the back strap are duck heads made of gold.
These sandals featured a tight horizontal strap. The strap was made of a layer of leather and latticework of thin gold wire. The sole consisted of a leather treadsole, with a thin gold sheet as an insole. A layer of gold rows and diamond-shaped beads made up the upper sole. Around the semi-circular panels on each side of the shoe was a strand of beads of gold, carnelian, lapis lazuli and amazonite. The unique layout of these elaborate sandals have not been seen in any other footwear from ancient Egypt.
These beautiful sandals had a wooden sole, covered with gesso (mineral calcium carbonate mixed with animal glue), and overlaid with a marquetry veneer of bark, green leather and gold foil. They were decorated with rows of white bark covered with gold foil and strips of red and white bark. The front strap consisted of a wooden core, around which there was a layer of gesso. The back strap is made of rawhide and equally as elaborately decorated. Veldmeijer believes that it is unlikely that these sandals ever touched the ground. "They might have been carried by a servant," Veldmeijer said.
The inner sole is a real piece of artwork, featuring figures of African and Asian captives and two groups of four composite bows, which together with the captives represent the enemies of Egypt, who the King symbolically walked upon when wearing the sandals.
These seemingly simple sewn sandals, made of palm leaf, grass and papyrus, were the most important items. "They were a status symbol, only used by those elite who were rewarded by the king and royalty. These sandals were so important that they were even imitated in gold," Veldmeijer said. Indeed, King Tut's mummy was wearing gold sandals based on the sewn sandal type when Carter discovered the pharoah's tomb.
Sign of Social Status
There were four types of fiber sewn sandals, which Egyptologists refer as A, B, C, D Type. Differing from the others in the shape of the sole and straps, and featuring a pointed, slightly upturned toe part, type C was worn only by royals or those in high social circles. "They are much more delicate, having a very thin sole and very fine sewing," Veldmeijer said. Type A sandals had a much thicker sole and were sewn in a much coarser fashion. They featured an expanded front that ended in a rounded toe and were worn by the lower social class. Shoes were not for deities. Gods and goddesses are usually depicted barefoot. Get the full story on how King Tut's sandals were designed to accommodate his club foot here.